His book “To Serve the President: Continuity and Innovation in the White House Staff” (Download To Serve the President Chapter 2 (PDF)) (Brookings Institute Press) is the kind of scholarship that does not get much attention in the general public, but is absolutely indispensable for research of the type we are conducting. The cost of the White House is really only a small part of the book, covered in chapter 2, but it is very detailed and well researched. Over the course of two years, Patterson interviewed over 100 men and women, most of them working in the White House.
Patterson spent nine years in various positions at the State Department, starting in 1945. From 1954-1961 he was Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, White House. He held a number of other government positions, before a string of different positions at the White house from 1969 to 1977, including working a couple years as the assistant director for operations in the white house personnel office. He later became a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of 3 books about White House operations, of which To Serve the President is the latest. All in all, he was actually on the White House staff for 14 years, and has studied the staff operations for 31 years.
The following are some of the most important observations that Patterson makes about the White House operations:
Introductory note: This chapter was originally entitled “The Budget of the Whole White House.” Can’t do that. There is no such thing. It doesn’t exist. There is no sheet or document or brochure, produced by any executive or legislative author, that lays out all of the expenses of running the White House.
“The Constitution includes not a word about the White House staff, and they are barely mentioned in statute. Staff members have zero legal authority in their own right, yet 100 percent of presidential authority passes through their hands. A president or a presidential candidate typically promises that he will have only a small White House staff and will rely predominantly on the cabinet officers for policy guidance. These pledges, if made, are rarely kept. A president’s next inclination is to emphasize how few staff associates he has, when in fact they are numerous. Veterans of past administrations typically look at the current staff and cluck disapprovingly: “We did it with a third of that number.” Stung by this criticism, sitting presidents try even harder to mask the size of their personal team or make a show (as did President Bill Clinton) of cutting it back by some fixed percentage. Despite vows to cut back, presidents typically do just the opposite: they add to the menu of White House staff services. (George W. Bush created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the Office of the USA Freedom Corps, and the White House Office of Homeland Security and Counterterrorism).”
In order to create the illusion of cost control and limited staff, the White House copes by “adding detailees and consultants, and by bringing in volunteers and unpaid interns who are not included in White House budget totals. As the reelection campaign approaches, staff numbers begin to creep upward.” (Groom: It’s interesting to note that someone like Monica Lewinsky would never have qualified for any paid position in the White House, but achieved her job as an unpaid volunteer. The scandal that resulted from her Oval Office sexcapades with President Clinton resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in investigative and hearing costs, as well as the distraction of the entire nation. So the use of unpaid interns was hardly any type of true cost savings measure.)
The papers of those who work at the White House (including the vice president) come under the Presidential Records Act and are not subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
This book is the only known volume on the presidency that lays out the size and the budget of the whole White House (except for its classified elements) a set of figures that have had to be pulled together from the several departments and agencies that, almost completely behind the scenes, contribute to financing the various parts of the modern White House. If the White House draws up an organization chart itself, it is never made public. Any public hearing the House subcommittee might hold on the White House requests is generally a routine affair. Few members attend because so many other committees compete for the members’ time; almost no one from the public shows up.
The president is “authorized to appoint and fix the pay of employees in the White House Office without regard to any other provision of law regulating the employment or compensation of personnel in the Government service.” As to what the staff is to do, the statute simply says that White House employees “shall perform such official duties as the President may prescribe.” In addition, the president is authorized to expend “such sums as may be necessary” for the official expenses of the Executive Residence and the White House Office. Assistance is also authorized for the domestic policy staff, the vice president, the spouse of the president, and the spouse of the vice president.
For positions at GS-16 and below permits “such number of other employees as he [the president] may determine to be appropriate.” The hiring of experts and consultants is also authorized. Finally, the 1978 statute authorizes any executive branch agency to detail employees to the White House providing that the detailing agencies are reimbursed for their detailees’ salaries after 180 days and that the White House annually reports the numbers of detailees to Congress for public disclosure. Significantly, the key 1994 act requires the White House to send to the House and Senate Governmental Affairs Committees each July 1 a list of all White House employees and detailees by name, position, and salary (excluding only individuals the naming of whom “would not be in the interest of the national defense or foreign policy.”)
Each year, of course, there is an appropriations statute that fixes the outlays permitted for salaries and expenses of the employees in the White House Office. In their 1998 act the Appropriations Committees inserted a provision requiring reimbursements when outside groups are invited to use the White House .
The new president can be assured that, legally, he or she has practically full flexibility to reshape the structure and organization of the White House staff and to fix the duties of every person serving there.
Every president since Eisenhower has added innovations in the functions and staffing of the White House. President Kennedy gave his vice president a downtown office-at the White House-and, after the Bay of Pigs disaster, instituted a White House Situation Room; President Johnson added a curator to the staff; Gerald Ford began an intern program; President Carter enhanced the policy role of the vice president; Ronald Reagan created a White House Office of Management and Administration; President George H. W. Bush instituted an office of national service and a “thousand points of light” program to encourage volunteer service. President Clinton assigned heavy policy duties to his spouse, used his vice president for all manner of assignments, foreign and domestic, created a National Economic Council. But there have been a few subtractions. President Clinton discontinued his predecessor’s Points of Light office (it has become a private foundation); President George W. Bush folded President Clinton’s “One America” operation and shifted Clinton’s National AIDS Policy Coordination function to the Department of State.
The White House helicopter fleet is being massively expanded, although escalating costs have necessitated putting this initiative on hold.
The contemporary White House staff can be divided into three components: policy offices, policy support offices, and professional and technical operating units. There are seventy-four separately identifiable policy offices that have leading policy responsibilities for the president, the vice president, or the president’s spouse. As of this writing, some 459 men and women can be included in this category. Twenty-one policy support offices work with or under the top seventy-four (for example, the executive secretaries of the National and Homeland Security Councils, the presidential aide, the White House social secretary); 213 men and women work in those twenty-one support offices. By far the largest contingent of workers at the whole White House are in the forty professional and technical operating units, which perform their quintessential duties in complete anonymity, absolutely unknown to the public. Examples: the presidential protective units of the U.S. Secret Service, the White House Military Office (which includes Air Force One, the helicopter squadron, the White House Communications Agency, and Camp David), the telephone operators, the service delivery team of the General Services Administration, the chief usher and Executive Residence staff, the National Park Service White House Liaison Office and its Visitor Center, and the pool of volunteers. There are some 5,902 men and women in these forty units. While their connection to the White House is ultimately at the president’s discretion, they are all nonpolitical employees, and in the words of one are “expected to serve” across administrations. Over the period of one year, there is also a corps of some 300 interns, 100 at a time; many of them do have political connections to the administration in office. Finally there is a pool of 425 volunteers, each serving a few days a week; the White House could not operate without them. The total number of men and women typically serving in the modern White House is, thus, 6,574.
One may start with the tab “White House Office” in the annual congressional budget submission of the Executive Office of the President, but that is only an initial fraction. In addition, twenty-two other budget accounts, thirteen of them in other departments, or parts of departments, pay the expenses, and the salaries, of men and women who are in fact members of the White House staff family. Not only are those costs scattered through those twenty-two other budgets, but in at least nine of them the dollars are not in any fashion identified as White House. Realistic estimates have to be made. Some of those thirteen agencies (such as the Postal Service and the National Archives) provide services directly to the White House. Sixty people in the vice president’s office and one hundred seventy-eight people on the National Security Council staff work in those offices beyond the numbers publicly counted. What is the dollar value of all those services? Executive Order 12028, signed by President Carter on December 12, 1977, actually mandates that the Office of Administration (OA) “shall, upon request, assist the White House Office by performing its role of providing those administrative services which are primarily in direct support of the President.” How much of the $91,745,000 appropriated to the OA in fiscal year 2008 is contributed to the White House pursuant to that provision? One former OA director told the author it would be fifty percent; a more recent director estimated one-eighth. The White House chief of management and administration says it is “difficult to quantify.” The author agrees that it is difficult, but for the purpose of this book, uses the one-eighth estimate, which may be much too low. In addition, several of the costs and salary contributions are security-classified, with no estimates offered. The total given in this chapter, accordingly, is tens of millions too small.
The twenty-three separate accounts that make up the costs of the “White House” are: (1) the compensation of the president, (2) the Executive Residence, (3) repair and restoration of the Residence, (4) the Office of the Vice President, (5) the residence of the vice president, (6) the White House Office, (7) the Office of Policy Development, that is, the domestic and national economic policy councils, (8) the National Security Council, (9) one-eighth of the Office of Administration, (10) the “unanticipated needs” account in the Executive Office of the President, (11) the General Services Administration White House Center Service Delivery Team, (12) the White House branch of the U.S. Postal Service, or are found in (13) the National Archives and Records Administration, (14) the Department of State, (15) the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) of the Department of Defense, (16) the U.S. Air Force of the Department of Defense, (17) the U.S. Marine Corps of the Department of Defense, (18) the Navy Seabees corps of the Department of Defense, (19) the presidential protective units of the U.S. Secret Service (in the Department of Homeland Security), (20) the Office of Personnel Management (which funds the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, (21) the National Park Service White House Liaison Office, (22) the White House Visitor Center (in the National Park Service). In addition (23) are the costs, scattered in various departments, of the detailees from those departments; a portion of these costs are borne by the White House.
This book does not include the other major units of the Executive Office of the President, namely, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the other seven-eighths of the Office of Administration.
The White House Office compiles and transmits an annual combined budget presentation entitled “Executive Office of the President-Congressional Budget Submission,” and it is this document that includes the budget proposals for the White House Office and those other nine accounts as well as the requests of the other Executive Office units.
The commander of Camp David, for instance, inserts his dollar request into the Seabees subsection of the appropriation for the United States Navy; the U.S. Secret Service requirements are included in the budget request of the Department of Homeland Security.